Consumer Health Digest #12-25

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 19, 2012

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Phony alcoholism cure scheme halted. A federal court in Florida has ordered the marketers of a phony alcoholism "cure" program to disgorge more than $700,000 for having tricked consumers into participating in its program. Last year the court upheld charges by the FTC and Florida Attorney General that the defendants had prescribed ineffective concoctions of dietary supplements as a supposed cure for alcoholism and then threatened to publicly reveal consumers' alcoholism when they tried to cancel their memberships. The complaint, originally filed in 2010, named Jacksonville, Florida-based Alcoholism Cure Corporation and its owner, Robert Douglas Krotzer. It charged the defendants, who also did business under the names Alcoholism Cure Foundation, Enjoy A Few, and Guilt Free Drinking, with deceptively peddling their program, ultimately taking in at least $732,480 from about 450 consumers. Online ads referred to defendant Krotzer—who is not a doctor—as "Dr. Doug," and boasted that the company's "team of doctors" would create cures that were customized, low-cost, and permanent. The court concluded that the defendants had made false and unsupported claims that the program had the "best technology to end alcohol abuse permanently," was "scientifically proven to cure alcoholism," and would enable alcoholics to drink socially. The court also found that the defendants falsely claimed (a) their program cost about $350, (b) consumers could cancel anytime, (c) consumers would be monitored by trained professionals, and (d) that the defendants would keep consumer information private. However, when participants tried to cancel their memberships, the defendants "routinely used disclosure of personal and health information as a threat to extract payment" and made "impossible demands" that consumers submit so-called "proofs of continued drinking," including expensive lab test results and hair samples. The defendants also charged consumers' financial accounts for fees they supposedly owed—ranging from $9,000 to $20,000—without authorization. In some cases, the defendants disclosed the consumers' alcohol dependence (a) to PayPal, credit card companies, and the Better Business Bureau, (b) by filing the information publicly in Florida small claims court, and (c) by exposing the entire database of consumer information to the debt collectors they hired to pursue the fees. The court's final order permanently bars the defendants from (a) marketing or selling any treatment for any human health-related problem, (b) billing without authorization, (c) taking any further collections actions against their victims, or (d) misrepresenting the cost or terms of any offer they make, the professional qualifications of Krotzer or any employee, or that the company is a charity. The order also requires the defendants to pay $732,480, to be used for consumer refunds, if practical. [FTC and Florida Attorney General win court judgment of more than $700,000 in bogus alcoholism cure scheme: Sellers of "cure" threatened to disclose consumers' alcohol dependence. FTC news release, July 19, 2012]

FTC warns against identity theft scammers. Scammers are using the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act as a hook to persuade people to release private information. Posing as government representatives who are seeking to verify some information, they then ask for bank numbers, credit card numbers, Medicare ID, or other personal information. The FTC warns that consumers should never provide such information in response to unsolicited phone calls, e-mails, or door-to-door solicitation. [Scammers out to trick consumers using the Supreme Court's Affordable Care Act ruling. FTC Alert, July 13, 2012]

Classic antiquackery documents posted. Quackwatch has posted copies of the May 1984 report and hearing on fraud against the elderly spearheaded by U.S. Representative Claude Pepper. The 256-page report—Quackery: A $10 Billion Scandal—culminated a 4-year investigation by the staff of the Subcommittee on Health and Long-Term Care of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Aging. The documents highlight quackery related to arthritis, cancer, anti-aging "cures, witchcraft, spiritual healing, quack devices, and dubious organization, and examine government enforcement efforts. Following the hearing, Pepper introduced three bills that would have greatly enhanced public protection but were quickly killed by letter-writing campaigns orchestrated by quackery-promoting groups.

Journalist paid to smear British quackery critic. Press reports indicate that German manufacturers of homeopathic preparations have been paying a journalist about £40,000 annually to systematically smear people who criticize homeopathy. [Lewis A. German homeopathy companies pay journalist who smears UK academic. The Quackometer Blog, July 16, 2012] The main target has been Edzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D., the leading provider of systematic reviews of the scientific literature related to "Complementary and Alternative" methods. Ernst has responded on the Twenty-First Floor Blog.

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This page was posted on July 21, 2012.